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LAND AND AGRICULTURE IN ENGLAND.
PROF. J. P. SHELDON,
In England particularly, and also in Wales and Scotland, though to a less degree, there is, and long has been, a tendency for land to accumulate in the possession of fewer persons. In the time of the civil wars of two centuries ago not a few of the ancient feudal estates were confiscated and given to other persons. In most cases they were bestowed on the favorites of the successful competitor for mon
onarchy for the time being ; sometimes to foreigners, as in the case of the retainers who came over with William of Orange in 1688 ; but oftenest to successful warriors, courtiers, or minions of a king. The wiser of the English nobles were careful to add to their possessions out of the spoils of the prevailing anarchy of those times. Earlier still, a great deal of ecclesiastical property was taken away from the numerous abbeys, monasteries, nunneries, and the like, which were once numerous and wealthy in the land. The abbots and monks of old were disestablished and disendowed, and their property devoted to secular uses. This, however, was an act of spoliation which had become inevitable. It would be interesting to learn how many of the estates at present belonging to the nobility and gentry were at one time in the hands of the dignitaries of the church, and the grounds on which they were transferred to the ancestors of the present owners. In some instances these transfers have worn well through many generations, and various large estates have descended in a direct line from father to son for hundreds of years. In others they have changed from one family or name to another, by confiscation, marriage, or purchase. But in whatever way the great landed estates of England may have come into the possession of persons who are still represented by direct descendants, or otherwise, there has been, during the present century especially, a constantly increasing tendency for large estates to grow still larger. The laws of primogeniture and entail, anciently devised by the wealthy for the preservation of their estates, have served to prevent the squandering of patrimonies by reckless spendthrifts who now and again came into possession of them, otherwise many more large properties than has hitherto been the case would have been split up into smaller ones, according to ordinary enonomic rules. The more temperate of our large land-owning families have preserved their estates intact without difficulty, the younger sons being provided for in the army, the church, or in one or other of the many official or sinecure offices, the bestowal of which is among the sweets of State patronage. The less temperate ones have preserved them more or less intact with, at times, considerable difficulty, a wasteful scion of a family now and again reducing his successors to comparative poverty, during which the sequestered estate was redeeming itself. And in certain extremer instances the ancient patrimony has become so hopelessly involved that a sale of it, or of a portion of it, could not be avoided. Such are the practices which have operated in the possession of the great bulk of the land in England during a long period.
A small proportion of the soil of the country has all along been legally salable, and has more or less frequently changed hands during the period, a good portion of it
having been annexed by purchase or otherwise to the existing and adjoining largeestates. Land has rapidly increased in value during the present century, and particularly during the last, that is the third, quarter of it; and with the increase of value the desire to possess land has grown up and strengthened. Men of large and men of small means have alike become possessed of the infatuation, and the desire of the former has been commonly gratified, while that of the latter has not. A powerful social influence attaches in England to the possession of land, and for this reason wealthy men have preferred to have their capital, or a large portion of it, invested in the soil at 24, or 3 per cent., rather than in some other commodity at 5 or 6. Merchants and manufacturers who have become wealthy through commerce have been commonly seized with the desire to become territorial lords, and to obtain for their far ilies a standing, as it were, among the recognized gentry of the country ; so they have bought up estates that were in the market, many of them impoverished by the recklessness of former owners, and as a rule have greatly improved them, adding alike to their beauty and productiveness. In these cases, and in those of old established families whose estates have been preserved from sequestration by the traditional wisdom and thrift of the successive owners, it has commonly happened that small adjoining properties have been eagerly purchased whenever they have come into the market. All this is quite natural and proper, wherever the ability to accomplish it exists. To round off an estate nicely by purchasing small properties which dip into it here and there, is an object which any land-owner may be excused for following, and those who, I think with great justice, clamor for free sale of land in England—that is, for the large estates to come into the market freely, when they are deeply involved -must also concede free purchase of it.
So far, however, the law of the land, as applied to the large entailed estates, has utterly prevented any such free sale, unless in extreme cases, and it has done so to the detriment of agriculture. Such laws do not exist in America, and what is here known as the “ landlord class” is an exotic which at present has not began to flourish in the States, so that my trans-Atlantic readers will with difficulty understand how great a burden these privileges of the higher classes have imposed for generations on the agriculture of England. It may be well to investigate this question a little further, because it has a more or less direct bearing on a good deal of what I shall subsequently say in this article.
It is scarcely necessary to point out that a tenant-farmer class is a natural correlation of a landlord class, as we have the two of them in this country; and so it follows that the former cannot safely improve the land without the consent and co-operation of the latter. A farmer who is merely a tenant year by year of the land he farms-a system which is almost universal in England-cannot be expected to invest much capital in what are known as permanent improvements,” nor is he likely to increase the fertility of the soil beyond a point which promises to be directly remunerative to him. It is true that, in deference to the unwritten law of tenant-right, which is known as the “custom of the country," outgoing farmers have been reimbursed in part for improvements, of which they have not received sufficient benefit during the time they held the farms, but the arrangement has not been embodied in any legislative enactment, except the permissive Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875—an Act, by the way, out of which the great majority of English landlords contracted themselves, so that it stands as a law whose authority is annulled. The custom of the country, however, grew into a system, or into systems applicable in a special manner to special districts, so that its provisions were usually embodied in the forms of agreement which were duly executed between landlord and tenant at the commencement of a tenancy. These agreements have been much more favorable, or rather fair, to the tenant in some counties than in others, and wherever such has been the case agriculture has made
greater progress. In less enlightened districts there are large tracts of comparatively infertile land which, though let at low rents as farms, have been little satisfactory either to owner or occupier, or to the nation at large; they seem to be under a ban, as it were, the ban of landlord's poverty and incapacity; and when once an estate falls into a state of stagnation in this manner, it is not easily extricated.
Yet it is not by any means always the present owner's or the occupier's fault that an estate is found in this condition. Perhaps the estate may never have emerged from its original unkempt state ; or, having emerged, may have sunk into it again through the folly or poverty of its owners, long ago; or, indeed, it may be that a spendthrift ancestor of the present owner may have permanently burdened it to support his gross extravagance, or have involved it beyond redemption as the result of an unlucky speculation by which he had hoped to double his income. But, by whatever means these disordered estates may have come into this condition, it is hardly ever the fault of the present administrators, for an estate does not become so disordered in one generation. Instances may be found without difficulty where a limited owner—that is, an owner who has only a life interest in the property, and cannot sell an inch of it-a man who has succeeded to it from a line of ancestors who were in a similar state of legal helplessness, finds himself compelled to keep an entire neighborhood in a state of stagnation, while all around is progress and profit. He cannot afford to do anything to encourage his tenantry or to improve his estate, and they dare not do anything except “farm from hand to mouth," so to speak. Perhaps the estate is in the hands of the mortgagee, who would take advantage of tenants' improvements to raise the rents of the farms, in order to insure payment of the interest on the money he has advanced ; or, it may be burdened with settlements on the younger children, or on a widowed mother, the owner's income from it being a mere nominal sum, which he seeks to enlarge by anticipating what would ultimately fall to him if only he could bide his time; this he can only do by mortgaging the future.
If we take, for example, a limited owner of 10,000 acres of such land, with a gross rental of £10,000, we commonly find a case of great hardships entailed. If the estate happens, as is often the case, to be situated in a district in which land sells to advantage for residential or other purposes, the owner might find great relief from present and future difficulties if he were allowed to sell, say 2,000 acres, which would probably fetch £100 an acre, or £200,000 in gross. By this method his income from land would be reduced to £8,000, but in the £200,000 at 4 per cent. he would have obtained an equivalent of £8,000 additional income. In any case he would be enabled to pay off jointures, settlements, and the like, leaving himself with an income equal to what it was before, dismissing his pressing burdens, and having a smaller and more compact, and consequently less expensive estate to keep in order. This, probably, is an extreme case, but there are such to be found; and while it is seldom under any circumstances that an estate yields an income of only 1 per cent. on the estimated capital, it is equally so that one yields more than 212 to 3 per cent. It follows, then, that a landlord who receives by way of rental only some 22 per cent. on his capital is a loser by 112 per cent. on all the money he has had to borrow at 4 per cent. Take, again, another phase of the question. A limited owner of an estate worth £10,000 a year has to pay away one-fourth of his income in settlements on his sisters or his mother; this reduces his net income to £7,500. But how is it with him when a cycle of bad seasons comes, like the one from which it is to be hoped we are at length emerging, and he has to make a remission of rents to his suffering tenantry to the extent of 25 per cent.? Here the remission has to be made on the £10,000, for he has to pay the jointures in full, and so his income is further reduced by £2,500, leaving him with £5,000 only. There are, indeed, instances in England more extreme than this one, among limited owners; as, for instance, where an estate is involved to the extent of two-thirds or three-fourths
the nominal income, in which event there is little or nothing left for the owner himself in times when remissions have to be made to the tenants on account of bad seasons.
It would seem to be reasonable that men in this position, owning land which yields them a return of 1 to 3 per cent., burdened with money borrowed at 4 per cent., should be allowed reasonable powers of sale. The necessity of this, indeed, is coming to be recognized, and it is probable there are few settlements made on land nowadays without equivalent powers of sale. The principle once admitted may with great benefit be extended. In the past, however, whatever it may do in the future, this question of limited ownership of land, disconnected from the ability to sell, has told heavily against the progress and development of agriculture in this country. It is easy to understand that a limited owner is apt to take a limited interest in adorning and improving his estate ; that his chief interest lies in getting as much income as possible from land he can do nothing else with ; and that the estate will be taxed to the utmost for the benefit of the younger children, who will have no part or parcel in it when their eldest brother comes into possession. This is the ordinary view which might be taken of such instances, but it must be said to the honor of the bulk of such owners that family pride bas generally overruled the desire to make the most of a limited ownership, that the younger children have cheerfully acquiesced in the general self-denial which was necessary for the welfare of the estate, and that voluntary outlay in improvements has not been withheld on the part of the heads of families. This sort of thing is common among the small land-owners of France who farm their own few acres, but it is not so among the corresponding class in England-not, at all events, to the same degree and extent.
The Land Improvement Acts have been of great service to many indigent landowners, and also to many others who, not indigent, have still been short of available ready cash for the needed improvements. Under these Acts a land-owner borrows money at a given rate of interest, which wipes off the principal too in a stipulated time; or he may borrow at a much smaller rate of interest, the principal being repayable according to agreement. The principle of repayment of the loan by annual instalments commends itself to any man who wishes at once to retain and improve his estates, the date of the improvements being coincident with that of the borrowing of the money. He borrows at a fixed rate of interest on security whose value is greatly augmented by the employment of the loan, and the accretion of value is his permanent reward. It is not uncommon for the landlord to borrow such money to make permanent improvements suggested by the tenants, who agree to pay a rise of rent equivalent to one or two per cent. below the rate at which the money is borrowed, the landlord making up the difference so long as he has to pay interest at all, at the end of which period the interest paid by the tenant becomes the landlord's profit in the transaction. There are, however, cases where the benefit of these loans for improvements cannot be obtained in full, because of existing mortgages on the estates of limited owners ; in such instances the excellent principle of Sir Robert Peel's Drainage Loans may and does, without detriment to the interests of the previous creditor, admit of their being made a prior charge upon the land, because under it no outlay is sanctioned by the Commissioners which does not promise a return greater than the annual cost of redeeming the loan within a given period. The rate of repayment is by annual instalments of 642 per cent., which in twenty-two years redeems the principal. The money is lent at 342 per cent., and the additional 3 per cent repays the principal in the time stated.
In seeking to accomplish the improvement of his estate by the aid of such loans from Government, the landlord is naturally guided by the character of his tenantry. if they are thrifty and enterprising, all is well ; if not, the wisdom of undertaking such improvements is somewhat nebulous. Backed by enlightened tenants a liberal
landlord may freely venture on incurring what would otherwise be a heavy responsibility, and which is not an inconsiderable one in any case. The greater half of the work rests really on the tenantry, for on their building on the foundation laid by the landlord depends the success or failure of the experiment. It may be said that the tenantry as a rule have been found equal to the emergency in such cases. observe that the landlord's risk is really less than the tenant's, for the land is his and the improvements thereon ; but the tenant, on the contrary, has no legal ownership in the improvements by which he supplements those made by the landlord. Not only has he no legal claim on the unexhausted improvements which he leaves behind when he quits his farm, but he is constantly liable while he remains on it to have his rent raised in accord with the adventitious value which the farm has received from his own outlay, energy, and intelligence. Instances are not far to seek where tenants have been unjustly dealt with in this way, yet it must be admitted that under all fair dealdealing and enlightened landlords-and there are many such--a tenant is safe against such capricious treatment. At the same time it must be borne in mind that the landlord always has the power to checkmate an unthrifty tenant who would impoverish the farm all he could : he can get rid of him by a six months' notice to quit. But a tenant has no means of any kind to protect himself against the greed of a grasping and extortionate landlord ; his improvements, sometimes rapidly made, do not repay him each year as he makes them; in many cases the improvements he makes—as, for instance, draining, boning, liming, re-seeding and the like-do not repay him under four or five years; and yet he is liable to be removed at any time, in order that another may reap the fruits of his labors. But let us admit that under the custom of the country he receives back on quitting his farm the unexhausted portion of the capital he has expended in adding to the fertility of the land—and in no case does he more than barely receive this—where, then, is the profit to which he was also fairly entitled? In a precarious business like that of farming, in which any man is liable to heavy reverses which he cannot ever retrieve, as a merchant may, by a large and lucky speculation,reverses, too, which come of influences over which he has no control whatever,--surely it is not enough that a man should receive back the nude capital he has expended ; and yet, when a change of tenancy occurs he does not, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, receive even this in full.
It will be understood from what has been said that farming in England is a much more complicated thing than far ng in America, and I need hardly reiterate that in addition to the uncertainties of a proverbially fickle climate, the English farmer has commonly to contend with other uncertainties which are still more harrassing. Land in England is surrounded with a halo of sanctity, which is the raison d'etre of endless, harrassing restrictions, which are unknown in America, and will remain unknown there for generations to come. Such restrictions and supposed safeguards, in fact, are incompatible with such a splendid abundance of land as America possesses, and they will not be largely introduced until she has an extensive landlord class and three hundred millions of inhabitants. But in England we have a limited area of soil, much of which is in the hands of those whom tradition has taught to regard the ownership of it in the light of a divine right; and, such being the case, it is hardly to be wondered at, as human nature goes, that the land-owners should have hedged it round with every conceivable disability which, in these later days, they are ill-inclined to relinquish. Tenant-farmers are still bound under tenancy agreements to farm their land according to accepted methods and in given rotations, many of which are senile and out of joint with the times in which we live; they are required to crop the land in a given sequence, and to sell off only such items as the landlord may permit. It does not matter whether or not the stipulated systems and the crops raised under them are most profitable for the farmer; he must abide by his agreement or a heavy forfeit is the sequel. These